Twelve payloads from research institutions and private companies will be launched by Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, which is under development in the Antelope Valley, NASA has announced.

The research projects are part of the $10 million Flight Opportunities Program that partners the space agency with private commercial space companies to encourage advances in space technology while providing low-cost access to sub-orbital altitudes for experiments.

Research flights could begin later this year, with the space vehicle taking up paying passengers for sub-orbital flights perhaps next year. The craft completed a flight test from Mojave in January, but commercial flights would take off from Las Cruces, New Mexico.

“Our team is working hard to increase access to the space frontier so that many more payloads and people have a chance to experience spaceflight directly,” George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic chief executive, said in a prepared statement.

Virgin Galactic is the space tourism business of British billionaire Richard Branson. Additional sub-orbital space vehicles are being made by Spaceship Co., a Virgin Galactic subsidiary, at the Mojave Air & Space Port.

Among the experiments to be taken aboard SpaceShipTwo are an electromagnetic field measurements payload from John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md.; a micro satellite attitude control system from the State University of New York in Buffalo; an on-orbit propellant storage stability investigation by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.; and an experiment by Made In Space Inc. in Moffett Field to develop the use of 3-D printers in space.

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